(2004) Clive Barker, HarperCollins, £20.00, hrdbk, 489pp, ISBN 0-00-710045-0
(2006 paperback edition), Voyager, £7.99, 556pp, ISBN 0-007-22772-8
This is the second of a four-volume fairy tale (for kids of all ages). And the nice thing about these books, at least the two published so far, is that they feel like fairy tale books - the stock of paper used to accommodate the 125-odd colour illustrations gives these tomes a heft I associate with the (often 'treasury' sized) volumes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Anderson that I encountered as a child. In this book Candy Quakenbush, from Chickentown USA, continues her exploration of the 25 islands that make up the Abarat while being pursued by Christopher Carrion's agent, the Criss-Cross Man. She becomes separated from Malingo, who she rescued from Kaspar Wolfswinkel in the first volume, but comes to understand more about herself in the Twilight Palace. Meanwhile Wolfswinkel himself is liberated from the care of the tarrie-cats by Carrion's mother, Mater Motley and her army of stitchlings. The rumours of war between the islands of Day and Night become stronger, and a band of heroes seek out a missing Prince who is on a quest to rid the Abarat of dragons following the death of Princess Boa. But so frenzied are the conflicts to come that they may well spill over into the Hereafter (our world) and inundate Chickentown. Can Candy defeat the evil hordes of Christopher Carrion and Mater Motley before they launch the war to bring Eternal Midnight. And will she discover the secret of her own birth and destiny...?
While the plot, such as it is, will contain no surprises for the experienced reader, the sheer invention and enthusiasm of this tale makes up for any lack of sophistication. Furthermore, the illustrations are first-class fairy-tale fodder - just the kind of perverse thing a child (of whatever age) interested in the fantastic would lap up. Barker clearly revels in this kind of work (and he's always been something of a big kid himself) and must be pleased at the prospect of having Abarat realised in film by Disney. There will be plenty of material for Disney to crib from - there are now something like 350 oil pictures to choose from (plus more to come for the subsequent volumes). I'd recommend this book to anyone who has never really let go of all their childish aspects, and I'm sure readers will be waiting eagerly for volumes three and four. On a personal note, having read around, I'd have to say that these books are about 25 million times better than Harry Potter or Tracy Beaker or whatever. Better imagined, better written, and a lot funnier (especially for the older reader who enjoys wordplay). Great stuff.
See here for a reivew of the first Abarat.
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